Is Netflix’s awesome ‘Dark Crystal’ series too intense for audiences?
Earlier this summer, a local recreation board was kicking off its summer outdoor movie series with a showing of “The Goonies.”
When the rec board chairman mentioned that it was a PG-rated movie, I raised my hand to remind him “that’s a 1985 PG rating, don’t forget. They let a lot more stuff slide back then.”
The new “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” series on Netflix is rated TV-PG. But just like “The Goonies,” it seems like it’s more of a 1985 PG.
The first two episodes both end with relatively shocking acts of violence. The fact that those acts are perpetrated by Muppet-based characters from the Jim Henson Creature Shop doesn’t make it any less frightening.
I’m not sure my 6-year-old son will be watching the rest of it. Based on the first two episodes, the series is completely bonkers and possibly a bit too intense for its intended younger audience.
It is also 100% awesome for someone like me, who was swept away into the fantastical world set up by the 1982 film.
For those unfamiliar with the story: Two races of creatures, the wise and gentle Mystics and the foul, evil Skeksis, hold sway over a dystopian alien world called Thra. Two small, elf-like creatures called gelflings, the last of their race, are given the monumental task of taking a shard from the Dark Crystal — the mystical object that seems to provide the balancing life-force for Thra but also gives unnaturally long life to the Skeksis, who hold it captive in their castle — and reuniting it with the Crystal.
The Netflix version is a prequel series showing the events leading up to the film, when the gelflings still held the Skeksis in relatively high regard as guardians of the Crystal, rather than its captors.
We meet several different gelfling cultures. They all have individual names, but it boils down to: “bro” gelflings who serve as guards in the Skeksis’ castle, “hippie” gelflings who are more attuned to nature, and “nerd” gelflings who place an importance on literary knowledge and education.
One or two members of each culture begin to learn bits and pieces about what is really going on in Thra: the Skeksis have corrupted the Dark Crystal and something called “the darkening” is happening all over the world. They are tasked with warning the rest of Thra and, presumably, organizing the “Age of Resistance” in the show’s title.
One thing I will never get tired of is how great practical puppets look in action. The Jim Henson Creature Shop has always been at the head of the class when it comes to practical puppet effects, and their talent is on full display here. The tactile look of the flora and fauna in Thra gives everything a sense of weight and realness — which makes it all the more noticeable when a bit of sketchy CGI is employed.
I say “sketchy,” but it’s really not bad CGI at all. It’s just that the handmade practical effects look so good, you can’t help but notice that the “spitter” creature running up and down the walls of the Skeksis’ castle is clearly CGI.
There are a number of allegorical elements at work here, as well. One particular Skeksi, the Chamberlain, excels at spreading disinformation to keep the gelfling population subservient, while a fellow Skeksi is a bit of a war hawk, constantly angling to simply force the gelflings into submission.
And while I’m only two episodes deep, I suspect there will be modern political echoes in the way the “Age of Resistance” comes about, as more gelflings learn about what the Skeksis have been doing with the Dark Crystal — namely, using it to drain the life-essence from gelflings, one of the two aforementioned violent scenes.
Suffice it to say, the essence-gathering process is not quite as passive as it was in the film. As for the other violent scene, well, let’s just say it involves some sort of Muppet scorpion and a very gross, very realistic chewing sound.
So while it might not be appropriate for younger children, it’s an awesome return to a world full of oddities and wonders for those of us who were all-in on this cult-classic film in our own youth.
And one thing is for certain: it’s easy to connect emotionally with the characters in this story because they look and feel so real.
Disney and its stodgy “live-action animated characters,” who look ridiculous singing Broadway-style show tunes while showing absolutely no visible emotion, could take a lesson or two from the highly emotive puppets on display everywhere in “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .